Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

Title: Rendezvous with Rama
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
1972 Hugo and Nebula Award Winner 1974To submit a detailed article, click here!

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I’ve just finished reading “Rendezvous with Rama.” Not for the first time, but it has been a few years since my last perusal of this classic. In the intervening time much science fiction has passed under the bridge, most of it from more recent decades. About a third of the way through the novel a thought passed through my mind. “How refreshing.”

Considered by many to be Clarke’s finest work, it is the hardest of hard science fiction. Social elements of this future of 2077 are barely hinted at. Discord between characters is virtually non-existent. Even human science speculation is sidelined – all to ensure that the novel’s entire focus is on Rama itself.

A more breathtaking, beautifully rendered science fiction environment has yet to be written. Clarke’s prose is concise without being curt, each detail described exactly as much as needed to create an image in the reader’s mind and not a word more.

The best analogy I can come up with is that of a set of designs created by a master architect. In the early chapters of “Rendezvous with Rama” an overall picture of the structure, within and without is presented. As time goes on more and more structural, environmental, and biological/ mechanical details are revealed. Some of these elements are understood (by reader and characters) and many remain a mystery. And unlike so many science fiction environments, it all remains perfectly, internally consistent.

Therein lies the true beauty of this novel. Clarke never tried to do too much. He makes no social or politically statements. He never tries to delve deeply into human culture of the future. A few broad strokes are painted to give context to the action and no more. He does one thing, and does it better than anyone has before or since – he creates an extraterrestrial environment at the limits of human imagination.

Lisa K. February 19, 2013

Note on the series: The tragedy of Rama is that the remainder of this series, co-authored with Gentry Lee, is so disappointing. Lee, with only rough guidance from Clarke, turned a significant portion of the emphasis to the explorers and frankly I feel lost the zeitgeist of Clarke’s vision. I would go so far as to recommend NOT reading them. There is no reason to taint the perfection of the original.

Question: Was “Rendezvous with Rama” Clarke’s masterpiece? Or does “2001: A Space Odyssey” exceed it?

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